IX.2 Hurricanes & Tropical Storms—Locations and Intensities since 1851

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John Nelson

Created by cartographer and designer John Nelson, this map visualizes over 160 years of recorded tropical storms and hurricanes by their paths and intensities, sourced from NOAA archives made available to the public. Mapping large volumes of this sort of recurring phenomena reveals clearer and stronger footprints of structure that may not be as apparent when presented individually. Inherent in the mapping, and highlighted via the polar projection, is the circuitous nature of cyclonic patterns as they spawn in warm tropical waters and rush away from the equator, carried along by climatic forces ultimately tied to the rotation of the planet itself. When viewed broadly in temporal volume and geographic scale, the cyclonic structure of individual hurricanes is echoed by a macroscopic view of this planetary phenomenon, forming one large “hurricane.” This fractal-like repeating pattern is a reminder of the repeating order found throughout the universe. In this case, a single rotational body, when seen at the right scale, forms a collective rotational body at the planetary level—a pattern then repeated at the solar system and galactic scales. The second and perhaps more salient message of this visualization is the evidence of increasing efforts and confidence in detecting and tracking these storms. The timeline plots the overall energy measured each hurricane season. The precipitous increase of detection in recent decades illustrates the narrative of important investments in the sciences—and the human dividends into which that investment has paid.


Nelson, John. 2012. Hurricanes & Tropical Storms—Locations and Intensities since 1851. Lansing, MI. Courtesy of IDV Solutions. In “9th Iteration (2013): Science Maps Showing Trends and Dynamics,” Places & Spaces: Mapping Science, edited by Katy Börner and Todd N. Theriault. http://scimaps.org.

Acknowledgements: This exhibit is supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. IIS-0238261, CHE-0524661, IIS-0534909 and IIS-0715303, the James S. McDonnell Foundation; Thomson Reuters; the Cyberinfrastructure for Network Science Center, University Information Technology Services, and the School of Library and Information Science, all three at Indiana University. Some of the data used to generate the science maps is from the Web of Science by Thomson Reuters and Scopus by Elsevier. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.